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expert reaction to carbon dioxide removal won’t reverse ocean acidification

Publishing in the journal Nature Climate Change, a group of researchers have modeled the effects of strategies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and report that in their systems such strategies would still leave long term negative effects on oceans in terms of pH and temperature.


Dr Nick Riley, Honorary Research Associate, British Geological Survey and Director of Carboniferous Limited, said:

“The Mathesius et al. and Gasser et al. papers expose two elephants that have been in the climate change mitigation debate room for some time. Namely that;

1) using technologies that take CO2 directly out of the air just means we will pull CO2 out of the ocean back into the atmosphere without making significant impact on lowering atmospheric CO2 emissions.

2) The target to keep global warming within the 2 degrees C rise is looking increasingly unattainable.

“Mathesius et al., also point out the issue of ocean acidification expected from our projected CO2 emissions if we continue on a business as usual trajectory. I have consistently held the view that the climate sceptic debate that tries to paralyse the necessary global policy action is a red herring and the threat of ocean acidification alone justifies dramatic and rapid reductions in CO2 emissions.

“Fossil fuels are the problem and it is fossil fuel emissions that need to be urgently targeted. Alternative low emission technologies need to be accelerated and we need to see far more support in publicly-funded R&D on a level at, or greater that that given to nuclear fusion. We also need rigorous emission lifecycle studies on alternative technologies and to only deploy those that are appropriate for their geographic location and that can reduce emissions quickly and at the lowest cost per tonne of CO2 avoided.”


Prof. Jon Gibbins, Director of the UK Carbon Capture and Storage Research Centre, said:

“Mathesius et al assume that carbon dioxide would only be removed from the air (CDR) in the distant future. In fact there is every reason to apply the CDR technologies that are already starting to be demonstrated as early as possible, to offset emissions from transport and other distributed sources. In this case CDR would make a very significant contribution to avoiding ocean acidification.  Early deployment of CDR also makes sure that the actual polluters pay to clean up after themselves, rather than leaving the burden for future generations that also have to cope with climate change. Even with current CDR technologies offset costs would no more than double the pump price of transport fuels in Europe.”


Prof. Stuart Haszeldine, Geologist and Professor of carbon capture and storage, University of Edinburgh, said:

“Mathesius leads an international co-operation between the very best global scientists to predict the future effects of continuing to burn fossil carbon and biomass and releasing the greenhouse gases.  Like a weather forecast, this doesn’t tell us exactly when and where the consequences will happen. But this does tell us, in ever more graphic detail, that the forecast is bad and getting worse.  Burning fossil carbon has been the foundation of the world’s industrial wealth. A 300 year carbon party. But greenhouse gas emissions from that carbon party are already causing a really, really, big hangover – global warming and acidification of the oceans.   These new predictions show, with scary certainty, that waiting for the carbonated ocean water to go flat, will take hundreds of years to lose its carbon dioxide. Even trying a hangover cure, by the engineering of carbon re-capture, cannot get the world back to where it is today. The best remedy is preventative – slow down now, then stop, releasing fossil carbon.

“Today the USA calls to reduce 32% of its own emissions of fossil carbon by 2030.  Gasser and collaborators show that continuing business as usual with carbon emissions is, literally, suicidal for life on earth. There are several cases in the geological past where greenhouse gases have built up rapidly in the atmosphere and ocean. All have resulted in extinctions of the dominant species – just now, that’s us. There are choices to make: reduce or recapture emissions; or consume less fossil fuel. These all rely on carbon capture and storage – so it’s vital that the UK continues to be a leading nation which actually builds these technologies to decrease carbon emissions. This new UK government has recently pulled back on support for many low-carbon renewable technologies. The UK would be moving in the opposite direction to the USA, if it slowed or cancelled carbon capture and storage in the next year, just when the scientific analysis says carbon capture is an essential part of the future.”


Long-term response of oceans to CO2 removal from the atmosphere’ by Mathesius et al. published in Nature Climate Change on Monday 3rd August. 


Declared interests

Dr Nick Riley: Was a member of the Advisory Committee on Carbon Abatement Technologies (to UK Government) until 2010; Co-ordinator of the European Research Network (CO2GeoNet) on the geological storage of CO2 (2004-9); Member of the Scientific Advisory Board on the Netherland’s Research Programme on CO2 Capture and Storage (CATO 2) until 2014; Currently Scientific Advisory Board Member of the Norwegian Research Programme (SUCCESS) on the geological storage of CO2. Honorary Research Associate of the British Geological Survey (since 2013) and Director of Carboniferous Limited (founded in 2013). In that role Dr Riley provides expertise to companies exploring for gas exploration in Carboniferous rocks.

Prof. Gibbins: None declared

Prof. Haszeldine: Prof Haszeldine did not take part on the study. He declares no competing interests. Haszeldine’s research is funded by UK and European Research councils, and consortia of hydrocarbon and energy companies, who have no influence over the results. Haszeldine is on unpaid committees of science and technology experts advising Scottish and UK Government.

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